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Free Falling For The Very First Time

Four first-time skydivers share their story about this surprisingly accessible adrenaline sport.

I’ll be honest: skydiving isn’t the first activity that comes to mind when I think of accessible fun. But when I stop and think about it, maybe it should.

I’ve donned a parachute and jumped out of a plane dozens of times, and in some pretty spectacular places around the world. Over the beach at Byron Bay, over Uluru at sunset, next to Table Mountain in Cape Town, and over the Bay Area in San Fancisco were some of my favourites, but the jump that had the biggest impact on me was my very first.

I was 23 years old. I won the experience at work: a tandem jump into the main arena at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, at night.

During the short flight up to the jump point, I chatted to my tandem partner about his experience. He’d been jumping for more than a decade. He gave me so much confidence in his capability that when it came time to strap ourselves together, I wasn’t particularly nervous.

The free fall made my eyes water, so I don’t have a clear picture of exactly what it looked like parachuting over the spectacle of the Royal Easter Show. But the crowd loved the show, as they were cheering and whistling when my tandem partner and I stood up after landing.

It wasn’t until I un-hitched and turned around to say thank you to the man who’d brought me safely to ground that I realised he had a prosthetic leg – and he was waving it at the crowd! At that moment, I realised skydiving was far more accessible than I’d ever imagined.

Harrison’s Story

Harrison broke his C4 vertebrae mountain biking, and was instantly paralysed from his neck down. It meant he went from being an active kid to one who was unable to breathe unassisted or speak for two months in ICU.

“It’s been a pretty big adjustment going in and out of rehab and hospital, and keeping up with school. But I’ve got some pretty solid mates that have helped me through it,” Harrison said.

Harrison with his friend Ben preparing to skydive at Wollongong
Harrison thought skydiving was a joke at first, but it ended up being an incredible experience.

After Harrison came out of ICU in January 2020, his friend Ben brought up going skydiving for his birthday.

“I thought it was a bit of a joke at first, as I still had a tracheostomy procedure to be done, so we put it on hold,” he said. Then, COVID-19 delayed things a bit longer.

At Royal Rehab in Sydney, Harrison brought up the idea of skydiving with the Sport and Rec Officer, Kel Smith, to get the ball rolling. After chatting with some people who’d done it before, and getting clearance from his doctor (which he said was a “pretty easy process”), Harrison booked a tandem jump at Wollongong DZ.

So, what did Harrison think of his first tandem skydive? He loved it!

“More airtime than I got on any bike jump,” he said.

Ryan’s Story

Ryan was a healthy, fit and active 16-year-old when he became sick with what seemed like a bad cold for a couple of weeks. Ryan was later admitted to hospital, where he found out that he had Dilated Cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart’s ability to pump blood is decreased because the left ventricle of his heart is enlarged and weakened.

The condition was most likely caused by a virus. As a result, Ryan was in end stage heart failure and in desperate need of a new heart.

After receiving a donor heart, Ryan celebrated his new chance at life by skydiving with his family. For Ryan, it was “an amazing chance to experience all his life has to offer”.

Geoff’s Story

Imagine hanging from the edge of a plane, wind in your face, feet dangling into the air. How would this moment feel if you couldn’t see?

Geoff, 78, is the president of Exsight Tandems Illawarra, and has been completely blind since childhood. Exsight began in 2008 and provides tandem cycling opportunities for people with vision impairment, or who for any reason cannot ride solo.

One of Geoff’s tandem pilots at Exsight, Dallas, is also a tandem instructor at Skydive Australia’s Wollongong DZ. Together, they decided to take the leap over Wollongong.

So, how did it feel?

“Dallas instructed me to straighten the knees and we shuffled forward off the low seat to the open door, to the point of no return. And then, a roll to the right into space, and the world turned upside down,” Geoff said.

“The speed was fantastic, with the roar of the rushing air making anything else impossible to hear.”

Geoff and Dallas skydiving pictured from a camera in the air with them
Geoff had a fantastic experience skydiving with Dallas at Wollongong DZ.

Geoff experienced “a strange euphoric state that I can only imagine must be something like what people experience when tripping out on their favourite mood changer”. He said it was “the experience of a lifetime”.

Skydive Australia

With state-of-the-art equipment, and a professional, experienced crew, Skydive Australia is proud to be able to offer disability skydiving options at the following drop zones:

  • Wollongong
  • Byron Bay
  • Newcastle
  • Airlie Beach
  • Cairns
  • Mission Beach
  • Melbourne
  • York (Perth)
  • Gold Coast

This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

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